Domenica Passio and Immanuel Rimmer have a solid excuse for not being instant fans of the animated musical film Aladdin. Disney released the movie in 1992, when Passio, now a senior at Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP), and Rimmer, a junior at Cheltenham High School, were both approximately one decade from being born.
This weekend, the teenage twosome star as Princess Jasmine and Aladdin in the Walnut Street Theatre's production of Aladdin Jr., a newly released, hour-long version of the Broadway musical — which, by the way, neither actor has seen performed onstage. The pair came by their roles via Camp Walnut, the historic theater's four-week summer program that introduces students to theater, and, in more advanced campers' cases, requires an audition to get in. Tom Quinn, the theater's director of education, said 50 Camp Walnut kids tried out for Aladdin's 15 parts.
"We put them into a really professional environment," he said, referring to two weeks of 9-to-5, then weekend, then school-day rehearsals, followed by six performances — including three this Saturday. No wonder the program has adopted as a slogan, "Theater is my sport." Here, the rising stars talk about what it's like to be a successful theater kid in Philly.
So, you two are Camp Walnut veterans?
Rimmer: I've gone here six years.
Passio: I've gone three. We've also both done classes outside of camp.
What keeps you coming back?
Rimmer: It's so satisfying, such an experience. It's awesome to be around a bunch of people who are just as passionate about theater as I am. I don't go to a musical theater school. At Cheltenham, most of the time is devoted to sports. So, this is really my one place to be with people who want to be there, who want to be professional. At school you go to musical theater practice, and you'll see people who really don't want to be there. Here, people are devoted.
You wish you had more music and theater opportunities at school?
Rimmer: The more a school puts into sports, the more they ignore all the other people who want to do music or theater. Those people usually have to go seek out other ways to learn themselves. It's just really unfortunate that sports have the priority over music and theater.
Passio: The big thing is the choir at my school, but the spring musical takes up a lot of time, which is great. We're kind of equal with the sports in our school, which is really nice. I'm very fortunate to like be able to have that. They love music at our school. We have 10 teachers for music education. This year, I have three periods of music a day. It's so great. I'm very lucky, like very lucky.
What do you love about acting?
Rimmer: It's more than just being a part of something. It's about putting yourself in someone else's shoes, and staying there. It takes so much effort and so much empathy. It really shows how much you care about your society. It's really good when the audience is able to pick that up from you.
Passio: Especially with this show, our characters really do have an internal message. With Jasmine, I've discovered a lot that I relate to. She's really strong and powerful. She's really, 'Yes, go women!' I'm all for that. I'm really excited for the audience — my parents especially — to get to see me play a powerful woman.
Your favorite parts of the show?
Passio: One is actually my first scene that I get to do with Aladdin. It's the first time Jasmine is sneaking out to go and be a normal person for once. She's also realizing for the first time that someone has the same emotion as her, that she's not the only one.
I also like the song "Palace Walls" that I sing with my three girlfriends. It's the song where we decide it's the right thing for Jasmine to go into the marketplace, to go discover the world that's out there.
Rimmer: That's also one of my favorite parts, where Aladdin and Jasmine make their first connection. It's where you're able to see that they're falling in love.
My favorite song, though, has to be "High Adventure." Unfortunately, it's one song I'm not in. But Domenica and I do get to sing backstage. It's everything I would want in a song. It's over-the-top. In it, Aladdin's friends Babkak, Omar, and Kassim show how much their care about their friend Aladdin. They're willing to storm a palace to save him. It's a roller-coaster ride, that song.
Domenica, did you go through a princess phase?
Passio: When I was 5, I went to Disney with my whole family and actually dressed up as Jasmine. It's super exciting that I get to do that again. I'm 17 now, but I'm still loving it.
Who are your idols?
Rimmer: Adam Jacobs.
Passio: Jeremy Jordan. I love Meryl Streep. You have to love Meryl Streep.
Rimmer: Kristin Chenoweth
Passio: Idina Menzel. My school sang with her for an award ceremony for Joe Biden, and we sang "Let it Go" together.
What performances do you dream of being in?
Passio: I love Wicked and would forever want to be in that musical. I mean, any role would be great, but if it was a lead, Elphaba.
Rimmer: I used to want to be Aaron Burr in Hamilton, just because I love Leslie Odom Jr. I was really into Dear Evan Hansen this year, seeing all the things they're doing, getting a message out there about teen suicide and being supportive of kids outside of the show who are going through similar issues.
How do you feel about greeting the audience after shows?
Rimmer: It's definitely great to see people who love what you do.
Passio: That's one of my favorite parts, going out and seeing all the little kids. They're so happy all the time.